Attorney General: Honorable Nancy Wyman, Office of the Comptroller, 2000-007 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

February 21, 2000

Honorable Nancy Wyman
Office of the Comptroller
55 Elm Street
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Ms. Wyman:

You have asked our opinion on whether a firefighter injured in the line of duty on April 5, 1997 is eligible for benefits from the Connecticut State Firefighters Association under the provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat.  3-123, as amended by Public Act 98-263. It is our opinion that a firefighter injured prior to July 1, 1998, the effective date of Public Act 98-263, is entitled to such benefits if he meets the eligibility provisions of the Connecticut Firefighters Association's bylaws. Such benefits would commence on July 1, 1998, the date the legislature established funding for the relief payments.

Section 3-123 is a funding provision only and does not establish eligibility standards for benefits. In order to determine whether a particular firefighter is eligible for benefits, the Association must refer to its bylaws, in particular, the sections that define eligible injuries and establish claims procedures.

Currently, Conn. Gen. Stat.  3-123 provides:

Sec. 3-123. Relief payments under bylaws of Connecticut State Firefighters Association. Whenever a person, under the provisions of the constitution and bylaws of The Connecticut State Firefighters Association, is entitled to relief from said association, as a firefighter injured in the line of duty, or rendered sick by disease contracted while in the line of duty, or as the widow or child of a firefighter killed in the line of duty the Comptroller shall, upon the delivery to him of proper proofs from said association of the right of such person to relief as aforesaid, draw his order upon the Treasurer in favor of the person or persons entitled to such relief, or their legal representative, for the amount to which such person or persons are entitled as relief as aforesaid, provided such orders shall be limited to available appropriations.

(Emphasis added.) The statute is clear that the determination of whether a person is "entitled to relief" must be made "under the provisions of the constitution and bylaws" of the Association. Although the statute was the subject of legislative action twice in the 1990's, as discussed below, significantly, the highlighted language was not changed. Our legislature has commanded that "[i]n the construction of the statutes, words and phrases shall be construed according to the commonly approved usage of the language ...." Conn. Gen. Stat.  1-1. "In the absence of ambiguity it is unnecessary to resort to principles of statutory construction ...." Harris Data Communications, Inc. v. Heffernan, 183 Conn. 194, 198 (1981). Whether the firefighter who is the subject of your inquiry is eligible for relief from the Association must be determined by the Association by reference to its bylaws.1

If the Association determines that the injured firefighter is entitled to relief, you have also inquired whether he may collect state funded benefits even though his injury occurred at a time when funding for such benefits did not exist.

In 1993, the legislature passed Public Act 93-80, which deleted from  3-123 language referring to firefighters injured in the line of duty or rendered sick by disease contracted while in the line of duty. The effect of. Public Act 93-80 was to limit state funding only to persons "entitled to relief from said association as the widow or child of a fireman killed in the line of duty ...." In 1998, the statute was amended to restore the language concerning relief to firefighters injured in the line of duty or rendered sick by disease contracted while in the line of duty. See  Public Act 98-263 sec. 7. Thus, pursuant to P.A. 98-263, effective July 1, 1998, state funding was made available for benefits payable to injured and sick firefighters, as well as widows and children of firefighters killed in the line of duty.

The firefighter who is subject of your inquiry was injured in 1997, at which time the statute did not provide for funding of benefits for injured firefighters. Public Act 98-263 establishes funding, not eligibility standards. When the legislature passed Public Act 98-263, it did not limit funding to firefighters injured on or after its effective date. To the contrary, the legislation specifically states that such funding is available "[w]henever" it is determined by the Firefighters Association that an individual is entitled to relief. Thus, a firefighter injured at a time when no state funding was in place can receive benefits if the firefighter is determined to be eligible for such benefits under the Association's by laws.

While a firefighter injured prior to the effective date of Public Act 98-263 may receive benefits under that Act, those benefits are retroactive only to July 1, 1998. Public Act 98-263 did not include express language making the funding for injured and sick firefighters available retroactively for the period 1993 through 1998. Statutes are generally construed to have prospective application only, unless the legislature clearly expresses a contrary intent. In re Daniel H, 237 Conn. 364, 372 (1996); Nagle v. Wood, 178 Conn. 180, 187-88 (1979); Little v. Ives, 158 Conn. 452, 457 (1969). Legislation which limits or increases statutory liability has generally been held to be substantive in nature. Little v. Ives, 158 Conn. at 457; Lavieri v. Ulysses, 149 Conn. 396, 482 (1962). Here, Public Act 98-263 imposes a liability on the Comptroller to pay for benefits to which she was not subject prior to its passage. Accordingly, it is our view that Public Act 98-263 may not be applied retroactively to fund benefits accruing prior to the effective date of the act. Under Public Act 98-263 therefore, funding of such benefits on a prospective basis would commence on July 1, 1998.

In summary, it is our opinion that a firefighter injured prior to July 1, 1998, is entitled to benefits if he meets the eligibility criteria established by the Connecticut Firefighters Association. In the event that the Association determines that thefirefighter is eligible, state funding for benefits would be available prospectively from July 1, 1998, the effective date of Public Act 98-263.

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Shelagh P. McClure
Assistant Attorney General

RB/SPM/db


1 To the extent the Association's bylaws do not adequately address this fact situation, they are subject to amendment by the Association.


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